America's Water Systems May Contain Drug-Resistant Bacteria

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A scanning electron micrograph of a number of <i>Pseudomonas aeruginosa </i> bacteria. <i> Photo Credit: CDC/ Janice Haney Carr </i>
A scanning electron micrograph of a number of Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria. Photo Credit: CDC/ Janice Haney Carr

HealthDay News — Corroding, aging pipes that bring water to Americans may be home to drug-resistant bacteria, according to a report published in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

These bacteria include Legionella, Pseudomonas, and mycobacteria. While these bacteria thrive in many environments, they "can [also] live in the pipes; they can survive on tiny amounts of nutrients found in water," lead researcher Jeffrey Griffiths, MD, of the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, told HealthDay.

Overall, his team's analysis of 100 million Medicare records found that, between 1991 and 2006, 617,291 older Americans were hospitalized after becoming ill from infection with these three common bacteria -- which are often found in plumbing. Health care costs for related illnesses totaled $9 billion in Medicare payments -- an average of $600 million a year, Griffiths' group said.

Many of the bacteria that triggered these cases may already be resistant to one or more antibiotics, as was seen in 1% to 2% of hospitalizations. Not only are antibiotic-resistant bacteria much more dangerous for patients, but treating such cases boosts costs by 10% to 40%, Griffiths said. He was former chair of the Drinking Water Committee for the US Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board.


Naumova EN, Liss A, Jagai JS, Behlau I, Griffiths JK. Hospitalizations due to selected infections caused by opportunistic premise plumbing pathogens (OPPP) and reported drug resistance in the United States older adult population in 1991-2006. J Public Health Policy. 2016. doi:10.1057/s41271-016-0038-8.

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